Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One Last Cup of Coffee

Hello my friends (in the voice of McCain),

My friends, the conceit I'm employing for the purposes of this email is the voice of an old senator from Arizona.

My friends, now is not the time to be ignoring proven rock and rollers like me. Now is not the time to jump so go see some young band with a myspace page and a self-released project down at Great Scott's. That band, they are very likely Socialists with a capital "S," sharing a stage, a van, a joint, and sharing God knows what or whom else (who or whom? I'm a plain speakin' sonfabitch, you know that. I don't trust "words" anyhow), pooling their money from CD sales to buy COMMUNAL breakfasts, palling around with radicals in Motel 8s.

No, my friends, we need a trusted rocker, a "Dad Rocker," one playing sturdy, proven classic rock songs, songs you know, even some "new wave" songs -- I'm open to some "new wave" songs -- good songs played by a proven artist, one who has reached across the musical aisle to shake the hands of and work with metallic dudes, hip hop kids, mean bouncers, sleazy record execs, dubious journalists, surly hotel managers, even jazzbos from Berklee. A rocker who can, yes, be considered a maverick. I've been called that. I am also not going to shrink away from my time as someone who has fought for this music, for the art, for your enjoyment. Yes, I watched as others less proven than I -- less deserving then I -- went on to stardom because they looked good on magazine covers with a good expensive haircut. But I'm a maverick. I never got that haircut, even when it was a proven way to stardom. And now I have a comb-over to hide my receding hairline. And, while I have chosen band members because of their looks over their lack of ability, Tom can still play drums very well. Sure, he won "Cute Drummer Alert" from Sassy magazine in the early '90s, but the fella also knew his stuff. He once was once embarrassed by that title, as I was with "maverick." But now, god knows he would love to have that title back. And, sure, that was the only month that magazine deviated from the usual "Cute Band Alert". They just could not find it in themselves to charitably extend that honor to the other 2/3 of the band. And that was when we were young, fresh-faced, etc. We had the world as our oyster, friends. We did not let it crush our spirit. No, we soldiered on. Good soldiers. Yes, we soldiered on for the good of the indie rock world. I don't want to say we sacrificed so you could listen in freedom. I do want to say it. But I will not.

Where was I, my friends? Ah yes...friends, I am here to ask for your vote, your vote of confidence. I need your support this Thursday, October 30, Halloween Eve. I need you to vote with your feet and your wallets. I need your presence at my last night at the Lizard Lounge. It could be the last note of music I ever play. I'm not saying it will be. But it might be. And if it is, you will only have yourself to blame for not being their to hear it. It might be a G sharp, which I rarely play. I have made a career of avoiding G sharp. But as the last note I ever play? Might be a G sharp.

But, my friends, I do not expect a G sharp to be the only reason you get off the comfy sofa-with-a-secret that you got for free in some Jordan's Furniture World Series promotion. No, my friends, I will have other reasons for you to come out. One is that none other than my longtime friend and political foe, Chris Colbourn has promised to be there to play a few numbers. Sassy drummer sadly can not make it that night. But we will do a Buffalo Tom song or two. Some covers. Etc.

And who else? What, Cobes is not enough? I know he is for you, my friends. But we will also have prodigal drummer back from Hollywood, Tom Polce, of Crown Victoria sitting in a song or two, Matt Pynn on pedal steel, Sean Staples on mandolin, and the proven lineup of experts and mavericks, Matty Tahaney on bass and vocals, Billy "three nights in a row, 5 weeks in a row" Beard on skins, and my longtime pal and supporter, Phillies Phil Aiken on the piano and organ. And, if we are all lucky, I will have the warm support of my family, always there behind me, friends. Last week saw the presence and contributions of 3 other Janovitz brothers and, with the mercy of the Lord, they will again be there to sing some songs.

My friends, don't let it all go to waste. You and I can get this music scene back on track.

Getting the Vinyl Out

Even in the full 1990s glory days of CDs, I clung to the old habits, keeping a good stack of vinyl LPs nearby, tucked away a little discreetly as one who was married had to do, though still in walking distance to the stereo. On a weekend evening, while my wife was preparing dinner, a bottle of wine open, no kids yet, or perhaps just the one, just a baby, I would periodically have the inspiration and the energy to delve in as a DJ and start spinning the tunes from my old records.

But babies become toddlers. More kids come. Records are fun things for them to destroy. Kids also start taking up time, record-playing time, time spent sitting down and reading liner notes, moving a turntable arm to the desired track. I know I’m not alone in the trend of those who found the dusty, scratchy old records migrating up to the attic or other “out of sight” (by one’s wife) locales. CDs were just too damn convenient for a guy like me to get nit-picky over the sound quality differences. Sure, there were (are?) some discernible positives that argued for the “warmer” vinyl, but man, the clarity on a well-mastered CDs, the small footprint taken up by a collection of them, as well as the portability… well, the poor old record didn’t stand much of a chance in households like mine.

Not that I ever thought of getting rid of any of my records, mind you. Why bother? If one had some space to store them, well, for me they are at very least like old photos, notebooks, memorabilia, etc. Too many memories wrapped up in the medium itself, both LPs in general and my collection specifically. I remember where and when I got almost every single record in my collection. And, here goes my requisite old-guy swipe at newer “forms of delivery”: I don’t recall with fuzzy warmth the time I downloaded the Kings of Leon “record.” But I remember the day I bought Sticky Fingers. I remember the whole day, the taste and temperature of the October air on the north shore of Long Island, walking downtown to buy the record at the off at “Off the Record” shop, walking again near the high school football field at dusk, clutching a square plastic bag made to hold albums, and finally getting home to my room to open up the Warhol-designed cover, peeling off the cellophane, my mother cooking dinner downstairs, taking out the disc, held by the edges in my palms, gently placing it on the turntable, and lowering the needle to hear the opening chords of “Sway.”

Along with the disappearing of records came the downsizing of the average stereo “system.” I, like many people, found myself playing music more often via the laptop, the iPod, etc. I don’t even play CDs in the car much anymore. That format seemed to just be a transitional one as well. But I am not complaining; I’m one who loves his music portable. I am filled with glee when I can take out my iPhone and, using an app called Remote, wirelessly dial up any music on my hard drive and stream it through my wifi network to any set of speakers I have hooked up to one of those Airport Express babies. I know this is not an audiophile’s dream, but not much is lost from the pretty basic analog systems I had all my life. I could never afford really expensive stereo equipment so it is a net plus for me. And if you had told me as a kid that I would be able to do that, well damn! I remember hearing a rumor that legendary local Boston D.J. Charles Laquidera had a system in his house that would mechanically dig out an album from his library of thousands in his basement and play it on a turntable/stereo wired throughout the house, sort of a whole-house jukebox. Not sure if there was any truth to it, but it was a fantastic image.

Still, I am not the first to point out that with all these conveniences, I feel like I have lost that whole tactile and cultural-relic aspect and relationship to my music. Sure, with that loss comes some gains. For example, with the appearance of the CD, we lost that big album art and rarely was there some novel invention or worthy artistic idea to offset or compensate for what was lost with the larger format. But as the Internet grew, so did music databases, artist web sites, blogs, fanzines, great ‘net radio like KCRW, Pandora, etc. So I find myself often discovering new music far more quickly than ever before and then digging deep and seeing videos by and of the artists, interviews, artwork, message boards, reviews – in short, far more than could ever have been imagined even in the days of 3-LP sets with booklets, postcards, and posters.

And yet…and yet, here I was pulling out a copy of Magical Mystery Tour from up in my attic to demonstrate exactly what I was talking about to my 4th grade daughter as she peered at the MMT “cover” on her iPod Nano. “Here,” I said. “You think that’s a cool picture, wait ‘til you see how it originally came out.” And she was either duly impressed with the old LP cover and booklet that I retrieved or faking it to not make me feel so bad and, uh, old. And she started asking me, as if out of central casting, exactly how were these things played. “Well,” I said. “Let me show you.” And I proceeded to go get the old turntable off the top of the basement refrigerator and hooked it up to my receiver. Now, this is a receiver I bought to have surround sound in the basement after, in the typical mode of leapfrogging technology, I got a big HD screen for down there. All my older stuff, Technics, Onkyo tape deck, etc. had either long ago died or left somewhere. Upstairs we have some ‘90s receiver to play the DVD and TV through, channeled into some lame 3:1 computer speakers hooked up through the headphone jack. But it sounds perfectly fine. The receiver downstairs, though, does not have an input for a turntable, which needs a preamp, blah blah blah. I could not play the records!

But weeks later, not sure what gave me the buzz again aside from another glass of wine and a fall Saturday afternoon, but I remembered I had gotten some sort of preamp to allow me to hook up the turntable to my computer. And I delved back into the attic and after a good hour, managed to find it in literally the last box in the farthest-most corner of the eaves. I grabbed the first record I could put my fingers on in one of the attic crates, Sgt. Pepper’s of all things, and went to the basement. It worked! The first song? “Lucy in the Sky,” of course, for the 4th grader, Lucy.

For the next hour I brought almost 1000 records, arms-full, crates-full of 12 and 10-inchers, dusty, heavy, down two floors to the basement, playing Blackmarket Clash, Bitches Brew, Daydream Nation, Truth, Feed Me with Your Kiss, Dark Side of the Moon, Time Fades Away and on and on, while I made my trips, sweating, I had all the records I could find. I know the indie kids are again (still?) collecting and bands releasing projects this way again. And, man, some of my records are worth a lot of money! A picture disc of Who Are You for $80?! 40 bucks here, another 50 there. The Pavement 10’’ is going for how much?!

I have replaced a great many of these old records with CDs, but so many more have not been. And they sounded great. But come on, I don’t buy the lament that the old stuff sounded “better,” unless your vinyl is pristine, in great quality pressings, with a high-end turntable. I know audiophiles are into the format. For me, all that crackling other deficiencies…the music just sounds smaller, murkier for the most part; sure, warmer here and there, but just kind of limited.

But here they were, my old friends! All stacked up and ready to be played again, thumbed through, re-stacked, opened, read, remembered. More wine!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shame, Repentance, and Redemption

Shame. Yes, those of you who did not show up last week -- and there are multitudes -- missed Tanya Donelly singing the Beatles "Long Long Long" and her own beautiful, aching song, "This Hungry Life." And then you missed where all of us took a break to go upstairs and enjoy the miraculous comeback by the Red Sox (alas! they have come up short this year). And then you missed us going down again and ripping it up on "Dirty Water." And you missed an expanded rockestra that saw Matt Pynn on pedal steel, Sean Staples on mandolin, and Joe G. from the Click 5 on guitar.

(Thanks to Cathy P. for the photos)

You see what you miss when you decide 10:00 on a playoff night is too late? I shall not tell a lie; it was all friends and family last week. And I am, as Husker Du sang, hardly getting over it, hardly getting used to getting by.

Well, there are 2 more shows. Tomorrow, the 23rd is bound to be a night of sublime beauty and raucus rock music. I have no idea who is coming to join us. Then, the 30th will be the last live gig, perhaps ever for me. I may be giving up the music thing. Music is for kids. And for successful elder musicians.

OK, that's not true. But what if it were? Would October 31, 2008 be the Halloween the Music Died?

Clearly it is time for me to end this post.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thursday is almost here!!!!

Thursdays at the Lizard Lounge in October are always special. You know it, I know it, so let's not argue about that. Ah, ah, ah....shhhhh! No arguing about that!

Now, I know we play late and God knows it takes a lot to get me out of the house, so I don't blame you for not showing up in the past, what with the Sox again holding on for dear life and playing yet another ALDS Game 5, it is a wonder anyone comes out to these special nights of physical, emotional, and musical challenge. Perhaps if we were in NY, where baseball fans have nothing but time on their hands to go out and get on with their lives, we might all be more apt to be looking for something else to do.

But what if I told you we have special guests? Like Tanya Donelly and Chris Toppin? Would that help? I should hope so. Not that I AM saying that; just hypothetically speaking. What about guitar slinger Joe Guese from the Click 5? He is a gentleman and a rockman. And you know, what about not just one, not two, not three, but perhaps the unfathomable possibility of four Janovitz boys in the house? Well, you might just say, "Bill, that sounds like it would be one expensive-ass show and we might even have to dress up for such an occasion and damn, I have nothing to wear and, on top of it, there would be no WAY I could even get into such a show, even if it were held in Foxboro Stadium, as it would sell out so fast."

Well, I agree, it will be quite popular, and sure, maybe you could tuck your shirt in. But I guarantee you it won't be expensive and, judging by the last few weeks, there might even be a table for you if you hurry and ACT NOW.

Thursday. This coming one. Lizard Lounge. Cambridge. It's special. Feel it. OK. GO!


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Music, Yeah Music

Oh, you offended few and non-offended majority,

I promise now to move on to something more important than politics and whatever it is Sarah Palin is practicing. Yes, it is time to discuss music.

So all of you who come here for that (the same 5 people who showed up at my show at the Lizard Lounge, minus the two who engage in political jousting), let's talk about music. I will tell you something and then I want you to tell ME something.

Me first: Round 2 of the 6-round gladiator hootenanny at the Lizard Lounge is fast approaching this Thursday night. I will tell you that very special guests will be coming to sit in at one or more of the upcoming shows. When I say "very special," I friggin' mean it. Of course, Billy, Billy, Matt, and Philly are all special to me as well. But I mean, special to you, the "Joe Fan."

Warning to those not interested in the Sox (as I don't want to offend any more folks by straying off topic, what I know best, should stick to, etc.): SOX WIN! BEAT NAYSAYERS! GO ON TO CHALLENGE YOUNG UPSTARTS WHO WILL LIKELY FALL AT THE HANDS OF THE CHAMPS!

OK, back to music now. Me? I'm digging all kinds of stuff lately, from getting back into the Feelies (whom I was going to go see until the SOX advanced -- dang, sorry!), to the Ohio Players, to Coltrane (very much back on Lush Life), Gene Clark, Mean Creek, the Budos Band...oh man, so good. Tell me, tell me what you like.